Racing in front of your home crowd, there’s always a lot of pressure.
James Hinchcliffe has felt that pressure in the Verizon IndyCar Series seven times, but for Guelph, Ont.’s Robert Wickens and Montreal, Que.’s Zachary Claman de Melo, this was a first for them. All three, however, handled the pressure well, and brought home — quite literally home — solid results.
“I think I would take a home race every race if we could,” Wickens said after finishing his first Toronto race on the podium in third. “I’ve never had one as a professional driver. To come here and take in how good the Toronto fans are … The fans here in Toronto are one of the best on the calendar. To be Canadian and embrace the whole thing and get out of that car and hear the grandstands roar, it gave me goosebumps.”
For Wickens, it was another good result on a street course, a type of track he feels like he excels at.
“I’ve just always, as a kid, I’ve always loved racing on temporary circuits,” he said. “I think they just really cater to my driving style. I’m a driver that is never really 110 per cent. I’ve always classified myself around 98. I’m not really the guy that’s putting wheels off on a permanent circuit. My whole style of driving I’m not putting myself out there to be vulnerable to incidents.”
Hinchcliffe was looking forward to winning his first race on the Streets of Toronto after coming off a win at Iowa Speedway. The win didn’t quite happen but he ended the day in fourth, another strong finish.
“Given the day we had, I’m thrilled with fourth-place,” he said. “We got shuffled back on the start there and spent the whole first stint stuck behind Marco [Andretti]. We had way more pace but couldn’t get by him.”
“Top-five today after everything we had to fight through is tremendous,” Hinchcliffe said. “Obviously very happy for Robby [Wickens] to be on the podium. Two SPM cars in the top-five, given the weekend we had. We were pretty average all weekend. We thought we had a little more for the race and that was the case.”
Claman de Melo’s day wasn’t as superb as his Canadian counterparts, but a 14th-place finish marked his second highest as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. It was a strong feat for a driver in need of a good run.
“We just stayed out of trouble. The team did a great job with strategy today,” he said. “We got some yellows at the right time, which was extremely helpful for me. I just stayed out of trouble.”
At the end of the day, Claman de Melo was appreciative of the Canadian fan support, even if Wickens and Hinchcliffe got the bulk of it.
“The fans were great. I expected to be probably a little overshadowed by [Hinchcliffe and Wickens] but the fans were great all weekend. A lot of people knew me. I got a lot of support and signed a lot of autographs in the garage, so it was an extremely cool experience,” he said.